Saturday, December 26, 2009
SAFER SEX IN SOUTH AFRICA: LIKE THE SIGN SAYS...
In an earlier post, I mentioned that a staggering 40% of the population in the area where Chanda's Secrets is being filmed tests positive for HIV/AIDS. Indeed, you hardly see anyone over fifty. As a result, the local HIV/AIDS committee has posted the following safer sex billboards along the highway. They're the only billboards you see, and star a male condom called "Dickie" and a female condom called "Fanny". Not exactly Disney, but they get the point across.
Pope Benedict, as you know, forbade the use of condoms in his recent trip to Africa. He maintains that the only approach to combatting the spread of HIV/ AIDS is sexual abstinence ("loving celibacy") or fidelity within marriage. Well, decades of global sex scandals have shown that abstinence doesn’t even work for the priesthood. And given a 20 - 40% infection rate in areas of SubSahara, you can be faithful in marriage and, depending on whom you marry, still have a 20 - 40% chance getting the virus. (Incidentally, Benedict has even forbidden the use of condoms in marriages where one of the couple has HIV/AIDS. )
"Why doesn't everyone in Africa just get tested?" people ask me. I tell them to picture a married couple in the West sitting down at the breakfast table. One says, 'Uh, honey, why don't we get tested for AIDS?" Can you imagine the rest of the conversation? As for individual testing, I lived in New York in the early eighties when the virus was rampant. I was terrified I might be infected, but I didn't get tested. Why? Because there were no drugs or treatments available. Far better, it seemed, to live in hope, however false it might be. It's the same reason people didn't get lumps checked in the days when cancer was a death sentence. And that's why it's so important to get cheap, generic anti-retroviral drugs available immediately. Including the combination drugs that make compliance easier.
Two questions, and I promise to get off my political hobby horse, and back to the more fun Chanda film posts:
1) If 20% - 40% of Canadian, American and other Western populations were infected with HIV/AIDS, how long before our governments would demand that multi-national drug companies provide generic medications? One second? Two?
2) So why don't we make the same demand when the affected continent is Africa?
I leave you with a photograph of some of the 3,500 AIDS orphans who live in this small rural area. They've come to the Elandsdoorn stadium for a concert and Christmas party. Fear and stigma is still so bad that few will acknowledge the real reason their family and friends are dying. May they live in our thoughts and prayers. Till next time --